WAS THE GILDED AGE ALL GOLD?
Corrupt politicians. Embezzlement. Monopolies. Exploitation of workers. Extreme wealth. Desperate poverty and homelessness. Sound familiar?
Brighter Than Her Fears tells the story of my great-great grandmother's life in western North Carolina in the 1880s. Readers and Viewers will be interested in the many parallels between the Gilded Age and today. Contact me to speak more about the novel's relevant themes outlined below.
Women’s rights will be front and center in the 2024 election. Discussions around equal opportunity, abortion rights, pregnancy and parenting discrimination, access to careers and education, violence and harassment (#metoo) make headlines.
Brighter Than Her Fears, set in 1882 Asheville, North Carolina, chronicles one woman’s plight to secure her rights. In her time, the state’s newly ratified constitution granted women “the right to own property and businesses, to work for their own wages, to sue in courts, to make wills, and to make contracts without their husbands' consent.” (North Carolina Museum of History). How far we’ve come.
My son lamented his lack of Black history knowledge, claiming his high school classes covered slavery and emancipation, then jumped to the Civil Rights Era, with nothing in between. That prompted me to restructure my debut historical fiction novel, Brighter Than Her Fears, to include multiple African-American characters and show their varied experiences in the late 19th century.
Following emancipation, many Freedmen moved to the cities, seeking work in service jobs. In Asheville, it was their vote that secured the city's first public schools. They also overwhelmingly contributed to the building of the Western NC Railroad, opening the mountain region to business and tourism. Jim Crow laws, discrimination and violence ensued. Sharecropping ensured their continued poverty. However, the Freedmen sought to better their lives through employment and education.
An election year is upon us and the term populism is thrown about. It’s not new. We’ve been here before. In the 19th century, concerns over the disparity between the extremely wealthy and the common man led to a rise in populism.
In Brighter Than Her Fears, George Vanderbilt procures over 125,000 acres to construct his lavish home near Asheville, North Carolina. Vanderbilt’s creation remains the largest single home in the United States, with 250 rooms. He quietly bought land from poor farmers and changed the landscape for his needs, spending an estimated $6 million (today’s costs: $1.6 billion). A bricklayer at the time averaged $2/day and worked 60 hours/week.